WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in D minor; Piano Concerto in F sharp minor; Tamara
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9727
The disc cover reproduces Jacob Alt’s View from the Artist’s Window; in the foreground there is an easel, in the background, a country panorama. Given the care with which the rest of the booklet has been prepared (the thoughtful, informed notes are by the pianist himself), one suspects a choice of subject whose symbolism chimes neatly with the music: a composer’s work, Schubert’s, depicted in the music of another, Liszt.
In transcribing for piano the orchestral and operatic works of Beethoven, Wagner, Bellini, Donizetti and others, Liszt elevated the paraphrase form to the highest level; and nowhere more so, perhaps, than in these free transcriptions of songs from Schubert’s Schwanengesang. To this pairing must be added Frederic Chiu’s own artistry, revealing in ‘Aufenthalt’ a wealth of significant detail, whether in the haunting chromatic treble lines, weaving through the texture like lost souls, or the Schubertian repeated octaves also embedded therein. First impressions of a heavy, close piano timbre are dispelled by the impressive depths of contrast subsequently encountered: for example, the genuinely whispered pianissimo of ‘Am Meer’. The display of sustained pianistic brilliance in ‘Abschied’ explains not only why many performers avoid these pieces, but also why they are perfect material for this remarkable, thinking virtuoso. Nicholas Williams